I have always loved sports. As a kid in the 70’s and 80’s, I played football, soccer, baseball, and ran track. Very few kids in my generation “specialized” in a sport. We played a different sport each season. There were very few travel programs, and for us, the ultimate was making our high school team. Boy, how times have changed.
Today, children “specialize” in a sport as young as six years old. Their parents pay thousands of dollars for travel teams and personal trainers. Injuries and burnout are prevalent by the time many of these children reach middle school. Just as an aside, many of the middle school baseball players in the school that I used to run played between 80 and 100 games a year.
Parents and children who opt out of this year-round madness quickly learn that there are repercussions to their decision. Quite simply, the biggest repercussion is playing time. If child A is playing baseball year-round, and child B isn’t, it will be very difficult for child B to earn playing time, or even make the team.
As a school head, I became seduced with the allure of big-time high school sports. I saw this as a natural way to grow our school. Over a five year period we built two gymnasiums, a strength and conditioning center, and new locker rooms. We hired the best coaches, who in turn attracted the best athletes in the area to our school. During this five year period, the school won six state championships and had over 25 students sign NCAA Division 1 scholarships. Additionally, enrollment grew at the school during this five year period.
Over the past couple of years we started to see the many negatives of big-time high school sports. Students were coming to the school for the wrong reasons, athletic, not academic. If one of our coaches left the school, so did many of the players from that team. School administrators started to spend more of the school day meeting with parents over playing time issues. I even had a parent who wanted to meet with me last year over a coach’s game strategy. What a waste of time!
If I ever take another Head of School position, I will do things differently. Making your high school team, or winning a state championship for your school is no longer the ultimate goal for today’s high school athlete. The priority is to make an elite travel team. High school sports fills the gap between travel seasons. As a result, why not gear your school’s athletic program to the “average” athlete who just wants to have fun, stay in shape, and make new friends? Let the “elite” high school athlete play year-round for travel teams. Start a year-round competitive intramural program at your school (similar to what colleges do). Have referees, uniforms, standings, playoffs, etc. Teams could even be coed depending on the sport. Offer non-traditional sports such as 3 on 3 basketball and ultimate frisbee. Instead of hiring an athletic director, hire a full-time intramural coordinator. There are many positive outcomes that come from this pretty radical paradigm shift:
The school will save a tremendous amount of money on travel, field rentals, coaching stipends, and uniforms.
Students will come to your school for the right reasons.
- Administrators can focus on education and not have to spend time finding qualified coaches who do not work at the school.
- School spirit will increase as a result of more students having the opportunity to participate in athletics.
- The student body will be healthier due to increased participation in athletics.
I look forward to hearing back from my followers regarding your thoughts on this topic. Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, leave a comment on this blog, or on my Facebook page (www.facebook.com/privateschoolgrowthservices).